March 25, 2011

Sparrow houses for free!

I was just about to sign out of my blog when I stumbled upon the Sparrow Houses that BCIL recently distributed for free. The first time I heard about their Million Seed Ball Campaign, I was wonder-struck. We live in a world of possibilites, but, how many of us stop to think of it? Well, some folks do and therefore we still live in a safe and peaceful (but, for how long?) bit of the Earth. 

Sparrows! They take me back to my Mother's house- a haven of peace. Trees grew aplenty there. Towards mid-morning, say around 10 30- 11 00, as I sat in the long Verandah of that old house reading an old book from the old library, my attention would get diverted to some chirpy intruders! It seemed they came from nowhere - perched on a shrub now, gone the next second - they spread so much cheer around. Constantly hopping from one branch to the other, they celebrate vibrancy. 

Experts say their numbers are dwindling- some countries have added them to the 'red list' of endangered species. World over, people are sitting up and taking notice of the mystery of this disappearing bird. Some say, its mysterious. But, aren't the answers too obvious?

Lawns that look near perfect that they don't look like grass anymore! Where have the native bushes gone? Did someone ever sing an ode to them? We have replaced so many native varieties of plants and trees with new varieties which may not be sparrow-friendly. What we had in our gardens say when we were children is not what we have these days. They belong to an altogether new world!

There are no idle gardeners at least in the metros. The lawns come treated with Chemicals so that they are easy to maintain. We own multiple cars which demands more parking space- so, even that neatly maintained lawn is diminshing. The insects are all gone from our dwelling places.

Can we even talk about food grains? That may be like stirring the hornet's nest. Harvesting, packing and storing them have become highly mechanized that there are no food grains for the Sparrows to feed on. So much is now being written about with nostalgia about the famous horse pulled cart which carried food grains and the sparrow-trail that it left behind!

Where have the kitchen gardens disappeared? They have even faded from memory. Sparrows oft-visited these small, but rich backyard gardens.

I know there are city-dwellers now who yearn for the home-coming of these chirpy birds. Many keep water, seeds and fruits in their balconies and wait for them! Some have even waited for years for the first Sparrow to turn up!

But I also know of homes that adopt measures to tackle their menace (yes, there are people like that as well!). A terrace with a wash area always had big plastic basins with some water in it- just some left after the wash. Lot of Sparrows used to frequent this terrace for water in the thick of Summer. But, the owner took measures to scare them away! Just so that he has a litter-free terrace!

Thanks to BCIL for distributing those Sparrow Houses for free. And just like the many millions of seedballs that BCIL distributed once, I hope they are able to bring back the Sparrows to Bangalore!

Our living spaces are our own! We simply don't believe in sharing. But, we do talk to our children about Sharing as one of those values that they must possess!

Looking through the long window, I see rather hear Sparrows twittering outside. I see puddles of water here and there. And a lone tree which looks home to many insects. Sparrows are here and Spring must be round the corner!

March 22, 2011

BCIL and Hariharan inducted me here

A few years ago, I had just heard about 'green thinking'. I always wanted to be environment-friendly. But, to me, ignorance was true bliss. My 'environment-consciousness' was limited to reducing use of Plastics and encouraging cycling. And may be, less consumption of fossil fuels. I had no clue about the myriad ways in which we could contribute to saving the Planet. It was new to me that there could be houses which focus on ZED or Zero Energy Development. That is when the story began.

To cut the long story short, it was the first meeting with Hariharan, CEO, BCIL. I was awe-struck by him. Our short meeting extended to long hours because we all sat and listened to him. I was deeply touched by this man who has given all that he has to contribute to energy-consciousness at an urban level. I realize that it may be easier to preach or even practise energy-conservation in a rural setting, but, to fulfill the housing aspirations of the urban elite; all the while preserving the precious Nature is quite a challenge.

What followed was a few years of trying to partner with BCIL to promote their thinking, their homes. That was at a purely professional level. But, at a personal level, I wanted to do everything that I could to let their name reach far and wide. I spoke to so many like-minded friends. While my PR colleagues got fame and name to BCIL, I tried to do my own trickling of a story - a green story.

Green A/C? Green refrigeration? Zero food miles? Bricks that use Zero energy. Grow your own water. Welcome the air, wind and sun into your house. But, you don't have to switch the A/C off? It was all knowledge to me. That is what BCIL homes offer. Green engineering. In the real sense of the term.

I started researching on other builders of this genre. Or others who claimed to be:
Builders who offer more carpet area,
builders who offer their homes near a green patch,
builders who have homes with windows overlooking some army land,
builders whose homes look environment-friendly- just because they use bricks that look fanciful,
builders who offer basic rain-water harvesting as part of their offerings,
builders who offer a little bit of garden space (they call it organic farming!).
I did come across a handful who offer homes which are environment friendly in some sense, but in other ways, deplete natural resources. NOT ONE LIKE BCIL!

I don't have an axe to grind today as I don't work for BCIL. I don't work as their Communications Consultant at an official level. But, in my heart of hearts, am a BCIL ambassador. I have spoken to more people about BCIL after I stopped working for them officially and have been following this Company through various media channels. What prompted me to start this blog, what prompted me to save all those food miles, lessen my carbon fooprints - is all because of the green seed that BCIL planted in me a few years ago.

BCIL influenced my food choices too. Once, Hariharanji gave me a book (Hope's Edge) to read which is all about making wise food choices. I never knew that what we pop in so carelessly could damage the Earth beyond recognition.

There is a lot more about how BCIL influenced me. More in the next posts. I am happy that I could do my little bit for the world's first Platinum rated apartments (T-ZED). This is just one. BCIL has so many such firsts to its credit.

Just a bit more about the Founder - about what moved him so much that he gave up everything else for a single-minded cause- the Green cause. I paste excerpts from an interview with him.

"When did you discover your sensitivity towards environment?
Having to deal with over 800 human bodies after the Uttarkashi earthquake with the challenges of cremating them (not burying them) in the winter of 1991 with incessant rains that made the task harder laid the seed in me of having to take on challenges that put a human face to development and quality of life.

The inequity of life where the poor pay more for essential things in life like water and poor deepened my resolve to work toward technologies and solutions in urban and rural eco systems that could reduce our eco footprint while enhancing quality of life."

Some people are destined to do different things and do things differently.Once, a Chartered Accountant, a Financial Journalist, a Master in Econometrics. Then, a water shed management expert, a development economist, a rehab planner, a water/ energy technologist - now all streamlined into a  Green Engineering Expert, a Green Visionary. It must be more than just a calling.

Before I close, I dedicate this humble attempt to a visionary - Mr. Chandrasekhar Hariharan and BCIL. Wish we could all look at buildings the way he looks at them- as energy systems. Lets watch what we plug in and what we plug out of them. Let us open the windows of our houses wide open - let nature in - let the sun and the breeze in. Our minds too will open then to a world of big possibilities.

I would be more than happy and you may end up doing a whole world of good by visiting

March 2, 2011

Gangamma and Raagi Mudde

What goes around, comes around.

"The Okinawans, residents of an idyllic island group in Japan, claim to be the longest-lived people in the world. A sample weekend breakfast consists of brown rice, miso soup with seaweed, steamed spinach and jasmine tea. Here in Canada, a sample weekend breakfast consists of waffles, muffins, eggs, baby back bacon, sausage links, maple syrup and coffee. In stark contrast, the Okinawans have 80 percent less breast and prostate cancer and less than half the ovarian and colon cancer of North Americans."

Source: Canadian Cancer Statistics, 2001/2002

What goes around, comes around. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. This is in continuation of the previous post where I wrote about a lifestyle condition that I had which was a result of a sudden switch to processed foods. There is no dearth of health studies these days. All of them point towards the single minded truth that

'What isn't good for the environment isn't good for me either'

What prompted me to write this post is the many sad truths I have heard during interactions with two doctors - one an experienced Cancer Care specialist who owns and runs Cancer Hospitals in India and the US, the other - a veteran Gastroenterologist whose experience spans decades in many countries. I had the privelege to interact with them on a few occasions as part of my work.

Two of them often shared with us the sad state of our food habits and its contribution to Cancer and many other health issues. Once I heard the story of a six year old (from a colleague of mine) who had to go in for liver transplant because of the accumulation of toxins which couldn't be purified by the liver (they said plastic - I am not sure about the verity of this) Doctors attributed this to over-eating of fried snacks (they named a popular brand even - but, since I am not sure about the correctness of the information, I am not stating the brand name here. Unfortunately, little kids long for this - Once I saw a 3 year old rolling over the floor in a mad fit as her mother refused to buy the packet that she wanted to! What an impact it has on our young ones?)

We can only feel sad seeing parents stuff their ward's school bags with fried snacks - what, we even see them eating it for breakfast! While waiting for my Son's school bus, I used to get petrified seeing little ones of his age eating fried chips to glory - what? for breakfast?

Back to Bangalore - my favorite maid of all times is evidence to the fact that basic foods offer the highest degrees of health, with absolutely zero side effects. I hope we all hear it right - BASIC FOODS - they are the best for our body and for the environment.

My maid- Gangamma as she is called lovingly, eats Raagi Mudde for breakfast -everyday. With Sambhar. Or with chicken curry whenever she has the luxury. She works at about 10 house holds - hopping from one to the other. Her day starts at 3 am. She starts with making Jasmine Garlands, takes them to the Market by bus at the crack of dawn, makes a few hundreds and returns home for her breakfast. Then, heads to our apartment for work. Even after finishing work at the tenth house, she is as fresh as ever! Her genes would have certainly contributed to her sense of well-being, her intense desire to get matters going at her house hold would have given her an added impetus to live on, but am very sure the BASIC FOOD- that she devours every day - Raagi Mudde - is sure to have played a great role. I remember reading a WHO guideline that Raagi must be given to infants - as soon as they start taking solids!

While I wouldn't fancy eating Raagi Mudde everyday for breakfast (I do believe that variety is the spice of life!), what I am sure is the very minimal environmental footprint a person like Gangamma has!  Compared to my lion's share! It will take several posts to talk about it.

Our generation is hooked to 3 white powders if I can call them so - white flour, sugar and salt. The dangerous trio is aplenty in any processed food that we take these days. Hailed as the new food poison trio, we are blind to the great amount of damage they cause to a whole generation. The examples we show today are what our children emulate.

Child is the father of man- If it were so, we mustn't lose hope !

As I sow my own peril, I also sow irreversible damages for my dwelling place.

Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind

It is alarming to observe our food habits. This may have crept into my earlier posts as well, but I am pretty sure what goes around, comes around. I look at myself as an example. It is so easy to judge others, when I am a victim of today's 'here and now' attittude. But, for the sake of convenience I would say that it is my circumstances that decide my options; not me in the strictest sense. I am sure you do agree with me.

Do I hear a sigh of relief as well?

It was a few years back when I had just moved into a new apartment. I had about 30 minutes of drive when the roads were empty. But, that is never the case with Bangalore traffic. So, I would take about 45 - 60 minutes easily - just one way. Evenings would take more time - say about 45 - 90 minutes depending on the time I left work. My son was just into his School which put lot of pressure on the child and the parent. He was just 4, but there was quite a lot to be taught according to the School. My better half, in search of better career prospects had gone to the US then. For a short while, that was.

Until then, I was the 'health-conscious', 'environment-conscious' kind. Not to a great extent, but the ok-types. If I had an option, I would make food fresh and eat it then and there. Eat out once in a while, party once in a while and so on. But the long drives, worries from the School front, demanding clients and a missing better half tested my patience and what not. I became weary of my circumstances. I weighed my options - is spending quality time with my son more important than just eating fresh? I was already on a guilt trip that my son was a victim of single parenting ( this is the in-famous usage that I resort to, to discourage my better half from taking up 'on-site' work!) and even his single parent doesn't have ample time to spend with him. I was riding a self-pity wave.

Whatever disposable time I had at hand was spent with the 4 year old. Playing with him, reading a book to him and taking him out whenever I could. And occasionally loosing my cool when his teacher said he was not up to the 'mark'. I had my share of mood swings too.

I saw fresh food taking a walk out. Processed food came in to my shelves. Not much, but compared to what I used to, its share now was sizeable. I would still read the labels and check the ingredients for sure. But, what went around, came around as well!

It was during this time that I had to undergo a few health tests. I was diagnosed with a health condition that wasn't healthy. Nothing grave, but I was on the verge of a 'lifestyle condition' which was unhealthy. It was just cured in 3 months, but what surprised me were the questions the Doc asked me. Those pointed exactly to my lifestyle. It was not only the food that I ate, but also the stressed lifestyle that added to it.

The only way I could come out of it was to eat greens, eat veggies and fruits, eat them plenty and find time to exercise. I had to shed at least a few kilos as well.

More than taking medication for 3 months, what hurt me then was the fact that I betrayed myself. In spite of knowing what was good for me, I fell prey to the 'here and now' attitude. It was so easy to look at the difficult side of life and find reasons for my negligence!

What I sowed, I did reap. But, I was lucky enough!

(The cup in the image is for Sale on